Arts & Life
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This article was published 5/5/2010 (3789 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It is, in a strange way, a TV show about wish fulfilment.
There isn't a big lottery windfall or a dream-date connection or any kind of happily-ever-after ending, but for anyone whose retirement savings took a big, cold bath during the recent economic collapse, Living In Your Car does provide its own perverse kind of feel-good experience.
Living In Your Car, a new Canadian-made cable series that premieres Friday on HBO Canada, could fairly be described as a comeuppance comedy -- a show that gives its viewers what they want by really giving its central character what he deserves.
John Ralston (This Is Wonderland, The 11th Hour) plays Steve Unger, an erstwhile corporate titan whose empire comes crashing down after it's found he was defrauding clients, falsifying financial records and funnelling as much cash as possible into his own pockets even as the markets crashed.
The authorities arrive as Steve is frantically shredding documents; he's arrested, convicted and sentenced to a lengthy jail sentence -- which he's able to abbreviate to just a few months by turning weasel and testifying against his former co-workers.
When he's released from prison, Steve -- for whom the term "oblivious" seems a woefully inadequate descriptive -- figures he'll simply be able to pick up where he left off. But he quickly learns that his old life no longer exists -- former friends in the corporate world avoid him like a plague; his estranged wife, Lori (Ingrid Kavelaars) has given away all his belongings and changed the locks on their mansion; and his own parents (who were wise enough not to buy stock in his company) refuse to offer financial or even emotional support.
Even Steve's lawyer -- an equally abominable unindicted co-conspirator named Neil Stiles (Colin Cunningham) -- is reluctant to help. All he's able to secure from the loathsome litigator is the keys to a luxury sedan which Steve has signed over to him in order to avoid having it seized by the taxman; and it's a good thing he regains possession because, as the show's title suggests, Steve is going to be spending a lot of time reclining on that fine Corinthian leather.
As his life continues its downward spiral, Steve turns to his teenage daughter, Kate (Mariah Horner) for friendship and guidance. Of course, their time together is limited by the fact he's locked out of the house and can only visit by climbing up a trellis while the ex is occupied downstairs with one of her boy-toy flings.
Living In Your Car derives its comedy from characters rather than situations, so the burden placed on Ralston and his castmates is a heavy one. He deserves credit for making Steve an interesting character in spite of the lightweight intellect the show's writers have given him. Kavelaars is suitably detached as Steve's still-bitter ex-wife, and Cunningham is suitably loopy as Steve's infomercial-fame-hungry lawyer. Surprisingly, the most substantial and likable character in the lot is teenage daughter Kate, who seems destined to serve as the show's conscience.
The storylines in the first few episodes of Living In Your Car -- which is co-produced and directed by Winnipeg's original comedy export, David Steinberg -- offer varying degrees of flimsiness as Steve careens from one get-rich-quick rejection to the next; storyline capsules of subsequent instalments suggest that every lesson Steve learns will be pounded into his skull by an accumulation of fully deserved hard knocks.
Simply put, the success or failure of this well-timed comeuppance comedy depends solely on Ralston's ability to get viewers to get behind a guy whose failure feels so good that it actually starts to feel a bit bad.
Living In Your Car
Starring John Ralston, Ingrid Kavelaars, Mariah Horner and Colin Cunningham
Friday, check TV listings
After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.
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